Rating: PG (for adventure action sequences and peril)
Release Date: December 25, 2003
Actors: Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lynn Redgrave, Ludivine Sagnier, Olivia Williams
Director: P.J. Hogan
Special Notes: Producer Lucy Fisher has been trying to make "Peter Pan" for 20 years, so this project is a dream come true for she and her husband/partner, producer Douglas Wick. Filming in his native Australia, P.J. Hogan collaborated with world renowned, behind-the-scenes artists, including cinematographer Donald McAlpine (an Academy Award nominee for "Moulin Rouge"), production designer Roger Ford (an Academy Award nominee for "Babe"), costume designer Janet Patterson (a three-time Academy Award nominee for "The Piano", "Portrait of a Lady" and "Oscar and Lucinda") and composer James Newton Howard (Oscar-nominated for five films including "My Best Friend’s Wedding").
Plot: In stifling Edwardian London, Wendy Darling (Wood) is a pre-teen girl who still shares a room with her two younger brothers, John and Michael. Each night she loves to thrill them with bedtime stories about swashbuckling pirates and tales of swordplay. This disturbs her Aunt Millicent (Redgrave) who believes it’s time for Wendy to grow up and squelch her girlish desire to become a novelist. She informs Wendy's parents (Isaacs and Williams) that Wendy needs her own room and for her to stop telling the boys stories. Wendy’s father then carries out the order, telling her it’s time to move out of the nursery. On her last night with her brothers, a mysterious boy flies into the nursery and convinces Wendy and her brothers to return with him to Neverland, where they'll never have to worry about growing up. The children fly away with Peter Pan (Sumpter) and arrive at Neverland where Peter introduces Wendy to a group of Lost Boys who eagerly adopt her as their “mother” and beg for her to read them stories. Unbeknownst to Peter, his fairy friend Tinker Bell (Sagnier), grows jealous of Wendy and the attention Peter gives her. His old enemy Captain Hook (Isaacs) and his crew of mangy pirates conspire to capture and kill Peter. When it would seem that all hope is lost, Peter saves the day and Wendy and the boys return home with a few surprises for their parents.
Good: It’s been 100 years since J. M. Barrie first introduced “Peter Pan” on the London stage. Since then, the story has gone through many versions but has never been fully realized until this production. For the first time ever, a boy plays the title role of Peter Pan. Sumpter is full of spunk and captures the true spirit of a boy who loves to play pranks and doesn’t want to live under anyone’s authority but his own. This is the first starring role for Wood who is both beautiful and exceptional as Wendy. My favorite scene with Peter and Wendy is when the two dance in mid-air while fairies and stars twinkle all around them; their innocent romance is magical. Isaacs (you’ll remember him as the villain in "The Patriot") is a perfect Hook, and for the first time I saw this character as more than just a mean pirate with a metal hook and a bad temper. In fact, Isaacs brings a human factor to Hook, which makes him a perfect “hook” for adults to go see "Peter Pan." He’s menacing and marvelous at the same time! I found it clever that Hook tries to persuade Wendy to betray Peter by reminding her that just as he has a big croc with a clock ticking away for him, Wendy likewise has a clock ticking away the hours that she has left to share a room with her brothers. After many years of seeing Peter Pan, I somehow never grasped that significant point until now. True to the play, Isaacs plays the two roles of Hook and Wendy’s father. Tinkerbell is played by French actress Sagnier, and Redgrave’s character is also an addition to the story. Writer/director P. J. Hogan ("My Best Friend’s Wedding") has made a special effects fantasy come true with visual effects that are magical and will remind you of a gorgeous painting, incredible sets that make wonderland come to life and a ferocious croc that’s huge and menacing. In the end, we are left with a fascinating duality that ripples through "Peter Pan." Are we meant to imagine that the Darling children actually stepped off their window ledge and flew to Neverland one night when their father had been especially stern with Wendy? Or should we instead realize that Wendy bid her childhood a poignant farewell with a fantastic dream on her last night in the nursery? Either scenario works, but it’s much more fun to "believe!" One interesting note: I don’t remember Hook using fairy dust to fly and then have a swordfight with Peter Pan in midair before he dies. But it was an impressive and intense fight.
Bad: This version may be a little darker than the children’s tale you remember. Hook is temperamental and angry as he kills a few of his own men for their disobedience. The bluish-looking mermaids have creepy faces and fingers as they try to seduce the kids into the water. The giant CGI croc is probably the scariest thing in the movie, and it may be a little upsetting to kids (who are still nightmare prone) to see it chase Peter and ultimately eat Hook.
Bottom Line: This movie isn’t just “another version” of "Peter Pan," this is THE version — a classic for the next 100 years! J. M. Barrie would be proud. Great attention, detail and budget were given to this film, and it shows. It’s colorful, magical but most of all … original. Sumpter IS Peter Pan. Adults and mature teens who still enjoy a kid’s fantasy and fairy tale will likewise be entertained. In the end, this interesting, beautiful and fun tale of never wanting to grow up may just have you chanting along with your kids, “I DO believe in fairies, I DO believe in fairies!”